These days, “citizen” is a loaded word. The crazed “birthers” still contend, despite official documentation to the contrary, that President Barack Obama was once a citizen of Kenya. Anti-immigration forces are so obsessed with documents and status and borders, they’ve failed to consider that unless you’re a Native American, you too, immigrated from somewhere. Your papers, please.

We did some checking about the roots of “citizen” and “citizenship.” In ancient Greece, according to, citizenship was granted only to property owners. The Romans initially used it as a privilege to be conferred upon, or withheld from, conquered peoples. America apparently thought that was a noble idea and exploited its premise to oppress African-Americans and other minority groups.

In other words, the powers-that-be historically have used “citizen” and “citizenship” to separate those who they feel do not belong.

That’s not how the Indy defines “citizen”or our Citizen Award winners. We don’t care where they were born. We don’t want to see their papers. We honor these people and groups because they work tirelessly to make the Triangleand beyonda more just community.

Here are our 2010 winners, whom we honor for their positive contributions to society. They are citizens of the world.

Members of the N.C. Dream Team, a group of undocumented immigrants, are risking deportation to fight for the DREAM Act. That federal legislation would allow the estimated 65,000 undocumented immigrants who graduate from U.S. high schools each year to attend college or serve in the military as a way of securing legal status.

As children, these immigrants were brought to the U.S. by their parents. In the face of hostile anti-immigrant sentiment, these successful high school graduatesand their U.S. citizen alliesare working toward a more positive society for all people, regardless of their status.

Philanthropist Dan Hill could have used his wealth to buy fancy cars and yachts. Instead, he has invested in helping the less fortunate, including reviving a troubled East Durham neighborhood by funding the TROSA grocery. The store near Angier Avenue and Driver Street gives low-income residents access to inexpensive, fresh, healthy food otherwise unavailable in that area.

In Raleigh, Amber Smith of ME3 has harnessed the power of volunteerism. In its Communities in Action program, the group matches people with opportunities such as tutoring young people and working in soup kitchens. ME3 also fosters the spirit of volunteerism in high schools, offering a Community Leadership and Service course in which students work on projects that benefit their immediate communities.

In a classic David versus Goliath story, the New Hill Community Association is battling the Western Wake Partnersthe trifecta of Cary, Apex and Morrisvillewhich plans to build a wastewater treatment plant in the tiny, unincorporatedand you guessed it, historically African-Americantown. Both black and white residents have joined forces to thwart the project, which was scheduled to break ground this year. Lisa Sorg